There's an urge among critics to find a Lil Wayne record to fix as the canonical one -- a pinpointed moment at which his id dilated, his flow sublimated, his gag metaphors burst from logical constraints, and the onetime also-ran became the foul-mouthed baby-like poet laureate of latter-day rap nerds. For all its faults, 2006's double-disc mixtape Da Drought 3 might as well be it. It works, certainly, but fans might note that others work better. Proper releases Tha Carter II and Tha Carter III find his flow fully formed and his appeal transcending genre obsessives, and the Dedication 2 mixtape exhibited a mastery over the form at an earlier point. Further, Da Drought 3 can feel dated. Political references are stuck between Katrina and Obama, and even upon its release beats like MIMS' "This Is Why I'm Hot" and Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" felt tired. But there is something delirious and singular about this release that other contenders lack. Something sharp-edged, something furious. Fame and drugs later dulled Wayne's intensity, if not his talent, but here, alive with an online buzz that fully acknowledged his mike skill and agreed with his ego, Wayne spits quick, changing his flow mid-word and lending his absurdity an underdog's anger that later edged into zaniness. On a Beyoncé castaway track, for example, he finishes off a long rhyme scheme with a standard placeholding boast, "I'm just murdering niggas, free of charge," but then squeaks "Ya dig?!" and perks up further, as if spotting someone across the room, "Just holler back, I see ya sarge," before finally croaking out the instantly legendary "I'm so motherfucking high I could eat a star." This takes him two bars, wedged between other examples too numerous to parse. (Although special mention should be saved for the greatest-of-all-time-caliber verse he ricochets across "We Takin Ova.") And so, of course, there are other points in Lil Wayne's rise to prominence with bigger sales, better singles; there are earlier mixtapes, maybe more precise moments of actualization. But if when the dust settles the point is agreed to be Da Drought 3, wherein across two discs an MC who crawled from the wreckage of late-'90s cash rap swallows pop culture whole and excretes in exorbitant spatters his sublimely, ecstatically articulate thoughts on food, sex, professional sports, poverty, George Bush, television, the nature of art, and most importantly himself, the artist as a young millionaire, and all spat out with a linguistic intensity best described as "volcanic" -- let the record show that in any canonical capacity, Da Drought 3, for what it's worth, certainly works.
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